Climate change fears spark �3.2m investment in new Norfolk fire kit

Fire chiefs have revealed how they are having to spend �3.2m on the fire engine equivalents of 'a Swiss Army Knife' because climate change is causing more floods and heath blazes in Norfolk.

The county's fire and rescue service is investing millions of pounds in a dozen new fire appliances because the traditional two wheel drive vehicles are no longer always up to the increasingly challenging jobs which firefighters are called out to.

Fire chiefs say climate change means cases of flooding and fires on Norfolk heath land in drier summers are on the increase.

And that means the service needs vehicles more suitable for coping with such incidents, according to fire bosses.

That's why 10 new 4x4 engines are being brought in, along with two heavy rescue pumps, which help deal with road crashes.

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Norfolk's assistant chief fire officer Roy Harold said: 'What we wanted was a Swiss Army Knife of fire engines, something with the capacity and flexibility to cope with the challenges we face.

'We have selected a vehicle that can carry everything a normal rescue pump and can seat up to nine firefighters.

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'These fire engines don't have full 'off-road' capability but do have that 4x4 extra traction and a wading ability up to 75cms.

'We have done a great deal of work mapping risk patterns and the changing risk profile in our county. These 10 fire engines are much better suited to deal with incidents involving flooding, heath land and forestry.'

Mr Harold said a climate change impact assessment drawn up with the help of Met Office predictions, showed Norfolk would experience even more flooding, with harsher storms in winter and higher temperatures and drought in the summers.

He said: 'We know that Norfolk is at increased risk of flooding and you only have to look at how close we came with the tidal surge in Great Yarmouth a few years back.

'And we know from work that the Met Office has done that for every one degree summer temperature hike you get up to 23pc more fires.

'In somewhere like Norfolk we have got Thetford forest and the peat at Methwold, which are susceptible to fires and we need to be able to get to them.

'That's why we have gone for 4x4 engines which have got that bit of extra grip, to get us through the terrain and flood water.

'I don't ever want us to be in a position where I cannot get a fire engine through to somewhere that needs it.'

The service has 89 fire appliances in Norfolk. The new 4x4 appliances, the first two of which are due to arrive next month, will be based at Sheringham, King's Lynn, Loddon, Downham Market, Methwold, Thetford, Great Yarmouth, Martham, Acle and Wroxham.

There are already heavy rescue pumps at King's Lynn and Norwich, and the two new ones, also due to arrive next month, will be based at Yarmouth and Thetford.

The service used capital grant funding from the government to buy the new kit outright, securing a discount and 2010 prices for the vehicles to save the Norfolk taxpayer around �2m.

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for community protection at Norfolk County Council, said: 'We are constantly aware that our firefighters need the best equipment to keep them safe and this investment is as much about ensuring their safety as it is about keeping our communities safe.'

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